Impulses Toward Third Party Opens Way for New Ideas
The motion toward a third party is part of the splitting, wrecking, and destruction that we call polarization. This third party motion is arising on the basis of the destruction of the capitalist system and the battle to reorganize society around the new means of production. It is an expression of the economic and political process that influences everything else in that general process and how it unfolds.
When we refer to a third party, we are not simply looking at the emergence of this or that grouping. We are looking at something that the ruling class is attempting to accomplish within the process of the two parties’ inability to function. A third party will not come from someone’s wishes. It will arise from historical tendencies, and the development of those tendencies over a long period of time. The third party motion we are talking about is toward a bourgeois party, a party that will be formed to protect and preserve private property.
The impulse toward a third party is being formed and shaped within the context of the qualitatively new conditions and the struggles that are arising on the basis of those conditions. Regardless of the form, these struggles can all be traced back to the same content — the disruption and destruction of the capitalist system, caused by electronic production — and the battle to reorganize society on the foundation of the new means of production.
Above all, the capitalists are strategically united as a class to protect private property, but they remain tactically disunited on how to do it. The ruling class must develop alternative forms and parties in its failed attempts to maintain a unified political middle. It is at this middle that we concentrate our political fire — our agitation and propaganda.
Is the development of a third party a blow that strikes at this middle? Yes, and revolutionaries should welcome and embrace motions toward a third party. As workers are increasingly thrown out of the production process and the capitalist economy, the subjective political ties are beginning to fray and break. The process is accelerated with the development of a third party, which becomes a new environment and school for political independence from capitalist rule. We influence the consciousness of the participants. All our work is based on uniting the class in the fight for basic necessities, as opposed to uniting against the right.
A grasp of the process of cause and effect in relation to the third party helps us to see the opportunities for the development of consciousness the situation presents. The political consciousness injected into the developing motion now will help to shape its content as the struggle develops.
Thinking of the People
American society is in a state of transition. It is becoming impossible to ignore. Sections of the ruling class are recognizing that to maintain their position, they must change how they operate and how society is organized. They see that without major changes, automation and the resulting social economic polarization will tear apart society. Some capitalists call for quixotic reforms of massive wealth redistribution, but they will not go as far as to call for socialism, let alone communism, since they seek to preserve private property.
No longer able to tie the masses to private property with a bribe through capitalism, the ruling class is trying to figure out how to reorganize society in a way that will protect private property within a new robotics-based economy. The capitalists are exploiting historic social divisions and pushing fascist policies because they have nothing else to offer the working class in a world of automated production.
The concepts of “lower,” “middle,” and “upper” class are categories made up to confuse the working class about the true relationship between themselves and the capitalists. The purpose of this misdirection is to lead the working class to believe that income determines class, rather than the relationship to the means of production. The concept of the “middle class” has always been of paramount importance to the ruling class; it has been the bribe of comfort and security for a section of the American working class, tying their hearts and minds to the capitalists, while shunning the most exploited workers. As long as the bribe was paid (in the forms of higher wages, access to better education and healthcare, etc.), the ruling class could pit the divided sections of workers against each other, and the working class could never unite to challenge the capitalist ownership of the means of production.
As the capitalist crisis worsens, the bribe is being destroyed. Living wage jobs are disappearing and the workforce is being polarized. Research from the Brookings Institute explains that since the 1980s, the only sectors of work showing increasing employment are largely low wage jobs, and to a much lesser extent, high wage jobs. Meanwhile, the numbers of jobs that provide living wages and benefits, to both blue and white collar workers alike, are being eliminated.
As the economy worsened for the working class over a period of decades, their thinking has lagged behind as they adjust to the new conditions. But since the 2008 financial crisis, major shifts have begun taking place. A January 2015 Pew Research Center report illustrates: “The share of Americans who identify with the middle class has never been lower, dropping to 44% in the latest survey from 53% in 2008 during the first months of the financial crisis. At the same time, the share of the public who says they are in the lower or lower-middle classes rose by 15 percentage points, from 25% in 2008 to 40% today. As a consequence of these shifts, the difference in the proportion of Americans who say they are middle class and those who say they are in the lower classes has fallen from 28 percentage points in 2008 (53% vs. 25%) to a statistically insignificant 4 points today (44% vs. 40%).”
Most of the change in perception has happened in the three years since the “Great Recession” officially ended — the end of the recession meant the rebound of the economy for corporations only; the last three years ushered in the highest corporate profits in history and record-breaking bonuses for their executives. Yet today, 39% of American workers earn less than $20,000 a year, and 72% earn less than $50,000, with more than half the workforce working less than 30 hours per week, according to data from the Social Security Administration.
The ruling class can only push the “middle class” as an idea. But people are suffering and the idea of the middle class cannot put food on their tables, keep roofs over their heads, or pay off their debts. Despite Obama using the term “middle class” nearly forty times in his 2015 State of the Union Address, politicians only have words to offer — not jobs, not food, not security. The people find no redress in Republicans or Democrats; a recent Gallup Poll shows that only 7% of the population has faith in Congress, the lowest in history. People are losing faith in the system and see no future in it. The Washington Post recently reported that both Democratic and Republican contenders are recognizing the dangers of reminding Americans of their deteriorating lives, and have stopped using the term on the campaign trail altogether.
As people are alienated from the economy, they are also being alienated from the “law and order” of society. Human rights are being completely disregarded, as evidenced by the Chicago Police black site where people were held in secret without booking, phone call, or access to lawyers for hours and days at a time, sometimes handcuffed to benches or pipes. Rampant police killings and brutality have sparked rebellions and widespread protests through the country, brought to millions of Americans through the recent surge of “citizen journalism” of social media.
The militarizing of police has become ubiquitous from large cities to small towns as the U.S. military sells off surplus equipment and vehicles to local police departments, demonstrating the expanding role of the police as an “occupying force” across the United States. What started in the inner cities is expanding to all of America’s streets.
Society is becoming increasingly polarized around the issue of the police, pushing some to embrace a fascist agenda and pushing others towards a rapidly growing movement against police brutality and state violence. This widespread resistance to intimidation and violence shows the increasing alienation of the working class from the capitalists.
Just because workers are separating from the system doesn’t mean they are consciously anti-capitalist or that they are becoming class conscious. But it does mean society is polarizing and the ties that bind the working class ideologically to the ruling class are weakening. Many workers will seek other solutions to the crisis. Some of those will gravitate towards emerging third party formations.
Impulse Toward Third Party
Third parties in America have historically emerged in times of crises, as responses to bipartisan consolidation and control by dominant sections of capital at particular times. The significance of this process today is dramatically heightened by the content of our times.
Bipartisanship — and the impulse toward a third party today — is a political reflection of the economic revolution that is destroying the foundation of private property itself. The spread of automation and robotics is rapidly eliminating jobs and driving down wages in the remaining jobs to below poverty levels. Declining demand and the declining rate of profit are forcing corporations increasingly to merge with the State in order to guarantee a market to circulate their products.
In the past, the success or failure of third parties depended on the economic strength of the respective classes they represented.
In the 1850s, the “slave power” dictatorship of Whigs and Democrats trampled on the interests of northern industrialists and free soil farmers, causing them to organize the Republican Party. The Republican Party arose to represent the rising Northern, wage-based industry against Southern slave based agriculture. As a result the Republican Party grew rapidly, won a presidential election, and ultimately led the way to Civil War victory and reorganization of the State to serve the industrial economy.
In the 1890s, the People’s Party arose to challenge the bipartisan domination of monopoly corporations that were tightening their stranglehold on the economy. However, this third party was unsustainable because it was led by a class of yeoman farmers that was already well on its way to extinction by corporate agribusiness by the turn of the century. Later third party efforts in the 1920s, 30s, and 40s emerged as equally short-lived attempts to corral the working class protests against further consolidations of corporate power.
Bipartisanship today is developing around the process of the merger of corporations and the State. Behind a veneer of partisan division, the ruling class is increasingly united in its determination to transition from government by “social contract” to corporate fascist state rule. Step by step, they are removing any and all obstacles to corporate profit: economic, legal and political.
Economically, they are moving to raise profits by reducing taxes. Hidden behind its populist rhetoric, the January Obama budget includes dramatic multi-billion dollar tax breaks for corporations and has bipartisan support. Obama’s proposal is to lower the overall corporate tax rate from 35% to 28%, lower taxes on past overseas profits from 35% to 14%, and cut future overseas profit taxes from 35% to 19%. The negative impact on overall tax revenue will inevitably lead to renewed and redoubled calls for austerity.
Legally, they are trying to organize bipartisan support of the new trade agreement called the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) in an effort to introduce profound international legal reforms. The TPP would not only accelerate automation and globalization, it would establish an international corporate tribunal to eliminate the ability of democratic governments to regulate corporations or protect the general welfare of their people. Devoid of any public accountability, the tribunal would be empowered to seize tax dollars from any country daring to enact laws interfering with corporate profit, be they environmental, health and safety, minimum wage, government health care, bank regulation, or consumer protection.
Finally, politically they are using a bipartisan series of federal and state laws and court decisions to steadily restrict and narrow the right to vote and strangle democracy. Obama’s “administrative relief” for immigrants, while providing a welcome stay of deportation for some, nevertheless establishes a whole new category of workers who will be required to pay taxes, yet have no right to vote and no eligibility for unemployment insurance, health benefits, or Social Security.
Voter suppression has taken diverse forms and has proceeded state by state, with the blessing of the Supreme Court, just as it did in the Jim Crow era. It has included “caging” and “cross-checking” of working class voters, purging hundreds of thousands from voter rolls; restricting polling places and times; and photo ID laws that by themselves are capable of disenfranchising over 10 million voters. As a result of measures like these, voter turnout in the 2014 elections was the lowest in 70 years.
Just as it has done historically, bipartisanship today is again creating the conditions for emergence of a third party. Bipartisanship cannot include the entirety of the two major parties, but represents their respective centers. This can be seen in the maneuvering around the “fast track” vote for the TPP. As the two party centers converge, the left is splitting from the Democrats and the right from the Republicans around opposition to the pact. The fact that both the left and right express a form of populism demonstrates the limitations and the opportunities around the unfolding of this objective process.
As they spontaneously develop, third parties will necessarily be bourgeois parties and reflect bourgeois attempts to maintain political control in a time of great turmoil. However, the third party movement today is happening during the opening stages of a social revolution, based on the antagonism between modern electronic means of production and private property relations of production. It is happening at a time of the rapid creation of a new class of workers without any connection to social production. This creates the opportunity for revolutionaries to work within the emerging motion wherever we encounter it, to carry on revolutionary agitation and propaganda; in doing so, we can influence the process to allow for class separation to take place and a real workers party to emerge. Without revolutionary propaganda, left to their own devices, populist movements will inevitably lead the workers back under corporate control and into the arms of the fascists, just as they did in the 1890s.
The recent victories of Syriza (an 11 year-old party) in Greece and of Podemos (a one year-old party) in Spain, indicates just how rapidly dramatic political realignment can take place. It is not an accident that such realignments are happening first in the poorest countries in Europe, with the highest unemployment. As the crisis spreads, no amount of “American Exceptionalism” can prevent the economic and social polarization from escalating in our own country, and ultimately expressing itself in political polarization as well.
Tasks of Revolutionaries
It is only the start of the 2016 presidential election cycle, and already it is beginning to dominate political discourse. Over the next year and a half, tens of thousands of people will be swept up into electoral organizing efforts. Alongside the mainstream candidates pushing the fascist agenda of the ruling class, there will also be greater motion toward third party impulses as more people are pushed out of the economy and become alienated by the corporate Republican and Democratic parties.
Revolutionaries must be involved in this process as the third party motion unfolds. We will find ourselves pulled in many directions as the demands of the social movement intensify in step with the worsening crisis of capitalism, and as they link up with electoral campaigns. But our primary mission as revolutionaries is to teach, and to share our message throughout the spontaneous movement. Our overarching task for this time is to influence the thinking of the working class leaders that emerge — to keep the program of the new class at the forefront. In this way, we prepare the conditions for the emergence of a real workers party to emerge.
As the foundation for old ideas is weakening and dying away, just as with the idea of the “middle class,” revolutionaries have an extraordinary opportunity to introduce new ideas. Throughout the spontaneous movement there are more and more opportunities to reach people who are beginning to think differently. The third party motion is a crucial battleground for this work.
Revolutionaries must supplant the despair spawned by the continually worsening economy. We put forward a vision of hope, showing objectively how society can provide for everyone through the public ownership of the means of production and replace poverty with abundance for all. This vision is indeed the only solution — the only alternative to the fascist program put forward by the ruling class.
Political Report of the LRNA Central Body, May 2015
This article originated in Rally, Comrades!
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The age-old vision of a world without scarcity, without exploitation, class domination, organized violence, and stultifying labor has been the dream of millenia. The new completely socialized labor-eliminating means of production ... sets the basis for its realization. Now human history can begin, the light of the individual shining in the full brightness of liberated life, that can only be realized within true equality and cooperation: communism, a cooperative society.'Without Vision, the People Perish'
Rally, Comrades ! May/June 2011